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Electronic Document Storage For SMBs

Electronic document storage system may not lead your company to the paperless office, but it just might save you some money while helping to save the planet.

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The 21st Century was supposed to be the era of the paperless office. The idea of an entirely hard-copy-free workspace was kind of like the hover board from Back to the Future -- something that everyone would obviously have access to… later on.

Even though we all realize that using less paper is good for the planet and saves business costs, somehow, like that hover board, the paperless office hasn't become a global reality.

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But the goal of going paperless is hasn't gone away. Electronic document storage can help your company save money, manage documents more effectively, and stay in compliance with federal regulations such as HIPAA, Gramm Leach Bliley and FACTA, which control access to confidential files and documents for specific industries. According to a recent survey by AIIM for the EMC Corporation, streamlining document storage can cut costs and increases productivity up to 42%. Data also indicates that most companies can recoup the costs of a data storage system in about a year.

Even if going completely paperless remains an unrealistic goal, small businesses can still take advantage of electronic document storage:

Document Management Software
Document management software lets you store, search, and edit documents electronically. You can allow access to multiple users, provide online edit capabilities, and perform advanced searches, depending on the program you use.

A document management system requires a central database software and a storage server to hold the files. The most effective document storage systems use Optical Character Recognition (OCR), a process that converts scanned images into text that can be searched or edited. Though document files are assigned names and categorizations, the search functions allow you to find exactly what you're looking for even if a particular page is categorized incorrectly. Most document storage software lets you add "notes" to documents just as you would with paper copies, reorganize scanned documents, and add to files easily.

Document management software can be very simple or very complex. At the basic end, there are options like ScanSnap, a scanner/software package that allows you to scan documents and store them as PDF files. Simpler programs are often offered as all-in-one-box solutions: for example, ScanSnap Manager software is designed to be used only with a ScanSnap Scanner.

Businesses that already own scanning equipment will need to choose a software program that is compatible with their existing hardware. Slightly more advanced is a program like SimpleOCR -- a free, downloadable solution allowing you to convert most scanned documents into editable (and searchable) text using standard applications like Microsoft Word.

Businesses that need high-volume storage with advanced search capabilities, or that need to store and search documents with more complex components (tables within forms, tax filings, handwritten documents, etc.) can purchase software with advanced features, such as ABBYY FineReader, ReadIRIS or Nuance OmniPage.

Storage Options
When it comes to storing document software and data, there are two basic options:

  1. Having storage "hosted" by a third party provider.
  2. Using a dedicated server or disk drive on a local computer.

Hosted storage puts the documents on an off-site server, or online using a program like Digitech ImageSilo or Ricoh DocumentMall where you'll pay a monthly charge for the service. Fees are based on the number of users or on the volume of documents stored, and can vary depending on the type of program you choose -- some very simple software programs cost as little as $50 per user per month, while hosted solutions with advanced capabilities can run upwards of $3,000/month for a typical 10-employee business. The advantages of this approach is that the business can rely on the third party to maintain, update, and secure the information.

Self-storage, either on a local PC or server, requires your company to purchase all needed hardware and software before implementing the system. Again, costs can vary widely: You can download a free program with very simple capabilities or purchase software with more advanced features for several thousands of dollars. You also have to perform maintenance functions yourself, but retain full ownership and control of your system and don't need to rely on the Internet to access your data, as is the case with a hosted provider. Client-server solutions can also allow online and multiple-user access, and most have features like automatic data backup that can mitigate the impact of maintaining the software yourself.

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